Theatre Review: Look Back In Anger

The play is about a time when Britain was transitioning from a nation fighting for survival to a nation crowned with glory that had lost the ability to feel.

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Presented by Adelaide Repertory Theatre (aka The Rep)

Reviewed 29th August 2019

In a world full of Me Too approaches to the world of entertainment I found my reaction to Look Back In Anger to be somewhat mixed. It’s a bit of a curate’s egg (for the un-initiated, that means good in parts)! Does it really successfully translate into the world we inhabit today? It was written in 1952 and we really have moved on, moved through and have recently encountered a huge backlash against male dominance and behaviour.

The insensitive behaviour of Jimmy Porter seems to have been isolated from the rest of the cast. I wonder if what we are experiencing world-wide is partly responsible for this? The reactions of the other actors seem to be calculated rather than spontaneous, and I sensed a lot of the truth and meaning had been suppressed in the name of political correctness. It’s a play about transitions. The transition of Jimmy from unfeeling, insensitive man to the possibility of redemption. The transition of Alison from brow-beaten woman to a woman who makes the choice to live life on her own terms, whatever the cost.  The transition of Cliff from friend and collaborator to independent free-thinking man in charge of his own life. The transition of Helena from good time girl to realist. The transition of a father from the stern Military man to a gentle soul who shows how much he really loves his daughter.

The play is about a time when Britain was transitioning from a nation fighting for survival to a nation crowned with glory that had lost the ability to feel. A time when working class men and women could look to the future attending university which had hitherto been very much the domain of the upper and upper middle classes.

The performances stand up reasonably well individually; there is a lot of talent on stage. Adam Tuominen’s Jimmy is a solid performance. Tuominen knows his craft, and I found his Jimmy to be more crafted than authentic. It lacked the light and shade Jimmy needs to show us how insecure he really is underneath the bravado. But he is undoubtedly totally in charge of his performance.

James Edwards’ Cliff was energetic and clear, though I found the work, and hence the relationship with Cliff, to be a little lightweight. They have been through a very rigorous University education and would, I feel, have formed a stronger bond that would allow Cliff to overlook his friend’s boorish behaviour no matter how abhorrent he found it. This would strengthen the bond he has developed with Alison and give it even more pathos and perhaps justify the unrequited love. Never steal a friend’s wife.

Leah Lowe has an unremittingly challenging role to play. The constant torrent of sarcasm and abuse from her needy husband is almost ignored in the way the text is written, giving her a lot of internal reaction before showing how she feels. The journey wasn’t easy or very vital for me; it seemed a bit bland for the first third of the play. Ms Lowe hits her straps later in the piece and shows she has the capability for great emotional range and complexity. The last five minutes of the play allow her to shine.

Jessica Carroll is picture perfect as Helena but I found the character to be a bit two dimensional. A lot of “acting” without a great deal of emotional context, it is a very divisive role as Osbourne has written it, but her deviousness is inherent and doesn’t need to be constantly demonstrated. It seemed a rather heavy-handed directorial choice.

Jack Robbins’ brief appearance as Colonel Redfern was honest and clear, though I found his lack of military style rather a problem. The man has been a colonel in the army; he tells people what to do, and I found the choice to make him quiet and sensitive at odds with the text.

The set is an attempt at authenticity that gets lost on the expanse of the Arts Theatre stage. Instead of the claustrophobic feel of a midlands boarding house, the size and dimensionality of the set give the piece a feeling of expanse which lets the play grow into a dimension bordering on the melodramatic. The lighting is overall an asset to the show but there were one or two moments when a little more subtlety could have been employed to the special effects: they were a surprise rather than an asset. Please turn down the trumpet, it drowns out so much of the dialogue!

The original music was disconcerting, I found it to be incomprehensible and resembled Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. The original 50’s tunes gave me a much clearer picture of the setting and time of the piece.

I felt the talented group of actors struggled bravely with a text that seemed to have little meaning for them. First night nerves often mean the actors get side tracked by having an audience and a group of people reviewing their work. Hopefully the play will pick up in pace and energy as the actors relax and settle into their roles.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Venue:  The Arts Theatre, 53 Angus Street, Adelaide 5000

Season: Thu 29 Aug at 8pm

Fri 30 Aug at 8pm

Sat 31 Aug at 8pm

Wed 4 Sep at 8pm

Thu 5 Sep at 8pm

Fri 6 Sep at 8pm

Sat 7 Sep at 2pm

Sat 7 Sep at 8pm

Duration:  140 minutes (including 15 min interval)

Tickets: Adult: $22 / Concession $17

Bookings: www.adelaiderep.com or Ph 8212 5777

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